What do you stand for? This week Muhammad Ali passed away. His life was an example of how the legacy we leave isn’t in the knocks we take, but in the stands we make. Here are Ali’s Top 10 stands:
Stand #1: He made a stand in 1954 when, as a 12 year-old Cassius Clay, his bike got stolen. He told the nearest policeman, Joe Martin, he wanted to “whup” the thief. Joe said “You better learn how to box first.” and then trained Cassius on how to box. Six weeks later, he won his first fight.
Stand #2: He made a stand in 1960, just six years later, by enduring his fear of flying to fly to Rome and win the light heavyweight Gold Medal at the Olympics.
Stand #3: He wore the medal everywhere he went but, several months after the Olympics, he made a stand when, after he was refused service from an all-white soda fountain counter, he threw his prized Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio River (It was finally found, 54 years later in 2014 on the river’s banks during the “Annual Ohio River Sweep”)
Stand #4: He made a stand in 1965 for racial and religious freedom when, after causing a major upset in beating Sonny Liston to win the World Championship title, he embraced Islam and switching from his “slave name” Cassius Clay to his new Muslim name, Muhammad Ali.
Stand #5: He made a stand in 1967 against being sent to fight in the Vietnam War, saying “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me.”
Stand #6: He made a stand at an Army recruiting station a few months later, when he refused to step forward when his name was called. He said “You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”
Stand #7: He was banned from boxing for 3 years and was stripped of his World Title. He made a stand throughout the 3 years of his ban by visiting colleges and speaking out against the war and for racial justice. Then, in 1970 at the end of the ban, despite still having a 5 year jail sentence pending, he re-entered the ring and beat Jerry Quarry. The next year, after 4 years of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his prison sentence.
Stand #8: He made a stand in 1974 against the stripping of his title by beating George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, winning back the World title.
Stand #9: He made a stand in 1984, after discovering he had Parkinson Disease, by setting up the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centre, saying “Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.”
Stand #10: He made a stand for sport, despite his deterioration from Parkinson’s, and appeared at every Olympics to carry the Olympic flame through to 2012, where he was helped to his feet in the Stadium by his wife Lonnie, after no longer being able to carry the flame.
Sports Illustrated name him “Sportsman of the Century”. The BBC named him “Sports Personality of the Century.” When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said “As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer. I won’t even mind if you don’t mention how pretty I was.”
For me, I will remember Muhammad Ali like the Olympic flame he carried at every Olympics. As a never-ending light that is passed on from one person to the next, always standing, always shining.
“We become heroes when we stand up for what we believe in.” ~ Muhammad Ali